Management and Operational Plans

Management and Operational Plans are necessary to ensure the safe and sustainable operation of technical systems for sanitation and Faecal Sludge Management (FSM). They are designed to increase the system’s operational efficiency and minimise system failures. To achieve this, procedures and activities required for management, operations and maintenance must be defined and standardised, usually through Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) established for technical processes along each step of the sanitation service chain. 

Key actions

    • First, collect and analyse first-hand information on the operation and maintenance of similar facilities to reflect operational experience in the design

    • Next, draft a Terms of Reference (TOR) for any consultants contracted to design the treatment plant; the TOR would usually include the requirement to produce the SOPs. Ensure that the consultants have direct experience, otherwise the SOPs they produce may prove to be unworkable or, worse, may result in outcomes that were not foreseen by the planner. SOPs should be written in clear and simple language. Photographs and diagrams should be used instead of text wherever possible.

    • Then prepare a flowchart that sets out the procedures to be followed and specifies the responsibilities for carrying them out. The flowchart can be used as a guide when producing a first draft of the SOPs. Each facility should have its own SOP. The flowchart will also make it possible to decide if one SOP is sufficient or whether several complementary SOPs are required

    • Next, describe all tasks required to operate and maintain the facility, provide services, monitor performance and repair and replace system components. This process description should be subject to the same technical review process as drawings, specifications, and calculations

    • The draft SOP should then be tested with future users to ensure they can be understood and followed as described. The aim is to check if the language is appropriate for target users and to correct any deficiencies

    • Finally, ensure that the SOPs are made accessible to the relevant individuals in good time. Staff in charge of carrying out the tasks described in the SOPs must first be aware of them. Further, SOPs relating to specific tasks should be either kept or displayed at the places where those tasks will be carried out (it can be useful to print out and laminate the SOPs)

    • SOPs should be periodically reviewed and revised as necessary to take account of any lessons learned during operation. The first review should take place as soon as possible after a technology or process has been commissioned


The goal of any sanitation project is that the infrastructure and services are used, processes operate effectively and design objectives are achieved. This is more likely if good quality management, operation and maintenance plans are in place. But even the best plans are only effective if the projects have been implemented well. This means:

    • The full sanitation service chain has been addressed

    • Good process design (details) and available resources (power, financial means, availability of consumables and spare parts etc) are in place to facilitate effective operation

    • If collection and treatment are required, the capacity of the facility matches the volume to treat

  • All users and staff have good knowledge of operational requirements and implement them

Management plans outline the processes and procedures required to manage the sanitation service chain. They include the necessary personnel, financial and physical resources and indicate how these resources will be allocated. Operational and maintenance plans outline the specific actions, activities, and processes required to run the sanitation service chain (see also Operation and Maintenance). Operational plans for infrastructure, in particular for faecal sludge treatment plants, need to be defined in SOPs; these are written instructions that cover all the tasks required to operate and maintain a system, including in the event of critical equipment breakdown.

Overall, SOPs should be structured as follows:

    • Title page

    • Table of contents

    • Definitions

    • Brief description of the overall activity or treatment process, including a diagram to show treatment units and flows through the system

    • A brief statement on the regulations that govern the operation of the plant and the standards that it is required to meet

    • A brief overview of roles and responsibilities in relation to operation, maintenance, and repair. These roles and responsibilities should normally be defined in relation to job titles/descriptions rather than named individuals

    • A statement on health and safety issues in relation to the plant as a whole

Information on each treatment technology should include an outline of the overall treatment process, a brief description of the technology, a description of its purpose, an explanation of its interrelation with other treatment units and a listing of the tasks required to operate and maintain the technology. For each task listed, the SOP should include:

    1. Information on when and how often the task should be carried out and the required materials and human and financial resources.

    1. A statement of responsibilities (defined in terms of job titles rather than named individuals) for carrying out and overseeing the task.

    1. A step-by-step description of the operational procedures to be followed, including information on methods, materials, and the equipment required to carry out the task. Where appropriate, the description should cover start-up procedures.

    1. Information on standard maintenance procedures. As with operational procedures, this information should be provided in the form of a step-by-step guide.

    1. Where appropriate, information on the procedures to be followed to shut down or bypass facilities.

    1. If appropriate, a list of materials and spare parts to be kept in stock.

    1. A statement on safety concerns related to each task and the action to be taken to ensure operator and public safety.

    1. Samples of checklists and any forms that the operator is required to fill out as part of standard operational practice.

    1. A list of potential problems, including step-by-step instructions on the action to be taken to resolve the problems.

Examples of good quality SOPs for humanitarian sanitation interventions can be found in the key resources.

Author(s) (2)
Marij Zwart
Netherlands Red Cross (NLRC)
Dorothee Spuhler
Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag)
Reviewer(s) / Contributor(s) (1)
Thorsten Reckerzügl
German Toilet Organization (GTO)

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